Gather Ye Violets while you may!


            Bulbous Violets

 07/02/16   Busy week of talks and, in between, weather fit only for masochistic photographers. I have noticed, however, whilst driving around, that Snowdrops have come into their own in the last few days. They have been with us for some time in dribs and drabs but have recently made a full showing. This morning’s weather being almost clement, despite a forecast of rain by three, I thought I’d make the most of it and sallied forth a’snowdropping. I visited a favourite site where the flowers, known in antiquarian literature as “Bulbous Violets”, are in a sloping woodland setting together with some ferns and mossy branches, only to find that, in the conditions prevailing, even a mountain goat would have been pushed to remain upright. Did the best possible but a major problem was that, even under the trees, rain damage had been substantial. It doesn’t take many damaged flower heads in a clump to completely write it off as a suitable subject. Careful searching came up with one or two suitable settings, however, so made the most of the day. I shall be checking out one or two other sites in the next few days to see if anywhere escaped the brunt of the weather.


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Winter Woodland Birds


         Woodland Birds in Winter.

   This is the time of the year when many Woodland bird species, that are normally difficult to see, flock to seed feeders for a “top-up”. If you have feeders in the garden then you will see some species that are probably not around in late Spring and early summer when they are tied up with the time consuming business of rearing a family. For many of them their food requirements change during the breeding season and they are dependent on a ready supply of high protein insects to fuel a fast growing brood. Gardens are not the best of places to supply this kind of a diet especially with our fondness for liberally sprinkling slug pellets and drowning the area with insecticidal spray every time an aphid dares to rear its head. Coupled with this is the fact that many garden flowers, though descended from highly perfumed, nectar providing ancestors so beloved by a whole host of insect species, have, nevertheless, been adapted for cultivation based on a completely different set of criteria  than  would have applied in the wild.                                                                                                                                                      

   Many flowering plants are the results of generations of artificial selection based on factors such as flower size, duration of blooming and ease of management. For some reason when we take species into “captivity” and breed specific individuals together we seem to work on the principle that “big is beautiful”, and select our breeding stock accordingly. Where flowering plants are concerned this often leads to blooms that are substantially larger and far more, dare I say “garish”, than their wild forbears. Along the way many species cease producing nectar and any insect attracting perfume as there is little or no practical need for it in their brave new world. As a consequence the most visually vibrant and attractive garden in the street could be about as sterile as the Sahara from an insect’s point of view.

   If you do feed birds in the garden then make the effort to do so regularly or don’t complain when very little turns up. The birds need food every day come rain or shine and, although food preferences will vary throughout the year, you should be able to adjust to their needs by simple observation of what they are eating most of at any one time. They are perfectly capable of balancing their own diets to best advantage provided that they have a diverse choice of foodstuffs.



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Winter Tits


         Assorted Winter Tits.

    At this time of the year, and with the weather as it is, the inclination for Wildlife photographers is to succumb to a dose of the Winter Weather Blues. Despair, dismay at yet another wet and windy day, and a general malaise and lethargy can force the body to seek shelter somewhere comfortable. Preferably in close proximity to a decent heat source and continuous supply of hot beverages, and with a sign over the door saying “Abandon Hope all ye who enter here!”.

   Mope not, for all is not lost. This is an ideal time of the year for small bird photography. Dependent on weather conditions many wild bird populations will be up against a feeding crisis. This is more so for the insectivorous species as the supply of accessible insects will have been severely curtailed by the onset of winter. Not only that but with the very much shorter hours of daylight in which to source food and the longer, often inclement, nights to fuel, winter can be somewhat fraught.

   As a result many species will become more tolerant of human presence than they normally are, especially if you become accepted as a potential food source. This will be apparent even within your own gardens if you normally provide food garden birds as, once the association with food has been made, you will often find then queuing up as you approach the feeding table.

   Many areas of the country will have one or two local sites where substantial flocks of mixed tits build up in the winter months. These are often in Parks or Reserves where the authorities, or even the public, provide a constant supply of food top-ups. In my area the New Forest is a source of such sites and at a number of locations the Public has taken to providing a veritable banquet. These days many feed mixes, fat blocks and balls, contain animal protein in the form of suet, or other animal fats, and mealworms. These latter can now be purchased in a dried form and, once they are used to them, are avidly sought after especially by species which are normally insectivorous and to which a standard dried seed mix is of little or no value.

   If you can locate one of these sites you will often find that, by placing food in a suitable spot, you may even be able to remain in the car and photograph through the open window. So much more civilised than lying in a muddy puddle!

   Tits in particular become very confiding and generally react favourably to human presence especially if you have a bag of feed in your hand as opposed to a dog on a lead!!


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                     Long Tailed Tit

                         Blue Tit

                            Coal Tit

                               Great Tit

Marsh Tit

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